Closed-doors summit over comhairle funding crisis
That was how one councillor described prospects following a closed-doors “seminar” last week at which mounting challenges were discussed. No background papers were provided for the private meeting where the mood was described as “extremely gloomy”.
It is expected that the Comhairle will, at its next set of meetings, agree to approach both Scottish and UK Governments to highlight the challenges it faces, particularly in the face of forthcoming large-scale developments.
A decade of funding cuts by the Scottish Government have already taken their toll on staffing and services. On a per capita basis, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has suffered more severe funding cuts than any other Scottish local authority.
This has led to staff reductions at all levels. The Comhairle has been without a Finance Director since the departure of Robert Emmott to Dundee in early 2021. Councillors were told that at least two of their most senior officers intend to retire by the end of the year.
One source said: “It is very difficult to see how they can be replaced. There isn’t the money to pay them what they would be looking for. On top of that, we are losing so much experience just when it is needed most”.
It is understood serious concerns were expressed about the Comhairle’s ability to cope with demands arising from major projects which are fast approaching – wind farms, interconnector and a big upsurge in tourism.
“The roads are completely unfit for purpose and, apart from not having anything in the capital budget, we don’t have the engineering capacity that used to exist”, said one councillor. “Everything has been stripped to the bone because we don’t have any money”.
A spokesman for the Comhairle described the meeting as “a seminar which discussed among other topics future organisational structures”. He added: “A full report will be going to policy and resources in September which will ask members to approve a consultation with staff and unions on the future organisational structure.”